Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The End of the Year as We Know It

And I feel fine.

I feel totally fine with saying goodbye to 2013.

It’s been a year of transition for me. I went into it with a lot of momentum—finishing and polishing another novel, writing four short stories, one anthology sale, two workshops, a Worldcon, a new crit group, and making handful of new writing friends. In fact, all told, that’s just the first half of 2013.

The rest of this year, I’ve been sidelined dealing with a family member’s illness. Productivity came to a screeching halt, writing time evaporated, and all that momentum has turned into regret at what-could-have-beens.

So yeah. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, 2013. I’ve got my eye on the horizon and what 2014 will bring. It’s going to be good. I can feel it.

Image by Amodiovalerio Verde of Flickr

What to expect next January? Well, more natterings on about my writing process, some subtle changes to the blog, maybe even some good news. A girl can hope!

In the meantime, whatever you celebrate, have a wonderful next few weeks and a happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Time for Thanks

Regardless of what you believe or how you choose to celebrate, taking a moment once a year to take stock and say thanks is a wonderful thing. And after spending the last few months caring for a sick family member, it’s a good time for me to reflect on the wonderful things in my life.

I’m thankful for…

1) All the projects I’ve been able to draft, revise, and complete (in some cases all three!) especially since my writing time of late has been drastically reduced. I’ve started or completed five short stories, and tinkered with a few more that haven’t found homes. My short stories routinely make it to the second round at markets, which has built up my confidence in my work even though it doesn’t always translate into sales.

2) The fact my story “Resonance” found a home in The Future Embodied anthology. Should be out sometime next year, and I can’t wait!

3) My growing community of writers. I went to Worldcon this year and was thrilled to catch up with some of my friends from Taos Toolbox and meet new ones. I also just got back from Paradise Icon, a neo-pro writing workshop in Cedar Rapids (which you can read more about here), where I met more talented writers. The workshop was a great break from my caregiving obligations and provided me with some much-needed inspiration. If you are looking to expand your own community of writers, applications to the 2014 Taos Toolbox workshop open December 1st.

4) That my latest novel project will be in this year’s Baker’s Dozen Auction on the Miss Snark’s First Victim’s blog. Cross your fingers for me and see if you can guess which entry is mine!

5) My husband for supporting me in everything I do.

What are you thankful for this year? Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Humble Pie

With the exception of certain universal life experiences, no other process has been quite as humbling as learning how to write well.
Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more. William Cowper
For one thing, everyone thinks they’re an expert on writing, by virtue of the high literacy rates in our society and the sophisticated narratives that populate our entertainment, our news, even our interactions with one another. Add to this the critique process that is often necessary to strengthen a writer’s craft and their work—a necessary evil but one that often shakes the resolve of many beginning writers (as well as those at every stage of their career).

Image courtesy of Jaypeg on Flickr

Criticism can be brutal, confusing, and sometimes even helpful, but I believe only a humble writer can learn something from it. You have to be open to the process, and that means you need to set your ego aside.

Then there’s the whole rejection thing, and how you’ll probably accumulate dozens or more rejections for every acceptance you get.

Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble. Shahrukh Khan

I’ve wrestled before with the idea of the arrogant writer, and still believe that writers are guided by the hope that our words have meaning rather than the expectation that they do simply because they've been recorded. 

I've never had a humble opinion. If you've got an opinion, why be humble about it? Joan Baez 

After all, our first amendment right to write is a privilege not every one in this world enjoys. To have the time to indulge in writing is another privilege not everyone has.

I know that writing has humbled me. Not only in what I do and do not know, but also in the knowledge that the odds are so very great. Each and every time someone further along in their career takes a moment to reach out to me, I am humbled.

Am I alone in feeling this way? What is it about writing that has made you humble?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cover for The Future Embodied anthology

Today, I'm happy to share with you the cover for the The Future Embodied anthology, which I'm thrilled to have a story in.

The artist is Galen Dara, who I had the pleasure of meeting at this year's WorldCon where she won a Hugo award for best fan artist. And I think her work speaks for itself.

For more updates about the anthology, keep your eye on the project's blog.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Some Thoughts on First Lines

We hear all the time how important first lines are in hooking a reader’s attention. First lines must provoke curiosity, create anticipation, and move seamlessly into the sentences that follow. That’s not what I want to focus on today, but if you’re interested in the elements of good first lines, check out the following posts:

Instead, I’m more interested in what the “right” first line gives to the writer.

by sippakorn of
Recently I found myself having trouble digging in to a short story I’ve been trying to write. I have a premise, characters, conflict, and even a rough idea for the plot. Sounds like I should be having no problem writing the story, right? Wrong.

I’ve started and stopped working on the story over the past few months, picking it up only to set it back down again. For a while, I thought my troubles in executing were because I hadn’t let the story simmer in my mind long enough.

Then I realized the real reason. My opening scene—particularly my opening line—wasn’t strong enough to hang the rest of the story on.

In the drafting stage, I don’t care about hooking readers. My only concern is getting to “the end”. And while I know what the shape of this story should be, my starting point is very fuzzy. Hence my troubles.

Starting points are a fundamental aspect of the architecture of a story. Everything that comes after the beginning cannot exist in the reader’s mind without the context the start of the story creates. Similarly, as a writer, each sentence I write affects the trajectory of the story. Where I choose to begin can have huge ramifications on what follows.

Even though I’d say 90% of the time I rewrite my first lines, I still need one—regardless of how imperfect—to help me write my story.

So what makes for a strong first line that facilitates the writer’s drafting process?
  • It should give you an organizational framework that dictates how you tell the story.
  • It should pose a question that you as a writer want to answer.
  • It must keep you writing.
Have you ever gotten stuck on your first line at the drafting phase? How did it affect your process? And how did you get unstuck?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Survive Your First Worldcon Part Two

Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I had no idea what to expect, and I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.

Be sure to also check out Part One.

6. Stay in the Conference Hotel

It can cost more money to get a room at the conference hotel, but by staying there you quadruple the opportunities of meeting people. For this con, since I was traveling with my non-con attending husband, we decided to stay in the non-party hotel so he’d get a break from the convention atmosphere. Big mistake.

Our hotel was right next door, so logistically, it wasn’t a big deal. But looking at it in terms of elevator rides, morning coffee lines for the lobby Starbucks, drinks at the hotel bar or dinner in the restaurant—these are all opportunities to see and be seen. And serendipity may smile on you and put you in the path of someone who can help your career.

You know the old adage that publishing is a numbers game? Cons are no exception. Position yourself to best advantage, even if that means putting up with hotel room that backs to a con suite.

7. Panels Are Not Your Primary Objective

This might sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. I spent my first day at the convention scouring the program and identifying what panels I wanted to see. And that first day, I went from panel to panel like a good little attendee.

There are two problems with this approach. One, you will not be able to maintain this level of focus for ten hours of programming each of the five days. Two, if you are attending panels, you’re learning, but most likely not networking. Granted you could approach panelists at the end of a presentation and if you’re lucky be able to introduce yourself. Or perhaps you find yourself sitting next to someone important. It can happen.

But you should be flexible enough so that if someone, especially if they’re higher up on the writing ladder, says let’s skip the next session and chat/get drinks/food/whatever….that’s what you should do. No matter what panel you planned to see at that time.

8. Be Prepared but Be Prepared to Leave Empty-Handed

We’ve al heard those magical stories of authors who attended a conference and came home with a book deal. And if that happens to you, more power to you.

But for the rest of us, you never know what could happen. You could have pitching opportunities and flub them or maybe no one will give you the chance to talk about your work. That’s okay, because you have to take the long-term view and know that slow and steady wins the race.

Knowing that lightning probably won’t strike though is no excuse not to be prepared to talk about your book (or whatever else you have going on). Think elevator pitch and practice it so you don’t sound like an idiot (I wish I practiced more).

Even if you don’t talk to an agent or an editor, your fellow writers may ask. You have to view these moments as opportunities to gain an advocate of your work if they like what they hear. They could be indifferent or unimpressed by your story pitch—but they’ll still recognize the fact that you are treating yourself and your story professionally.

9. Take Time for Yourself

This is important. Give yourself a break every now and then to recharge. There will be plenty of opportunities to hang out with other writers and meet new people. 


But you have to be the best possible version of yourself to make genuine connections. Everyone will be operating on fewer Z’s, and some people might be hung over or have spiking blood sugar. But it’s on you to maintain your body and your well being.

That’s it. That’s all I got. Hopefully it will be enough to give you a kick start for your next convention. Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Survive Your First Worldcon, Part One

Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to go for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important one was to slowly increase my visibility in the field by networking with my writing colleagues.

The view from my hotel balcony.

I had no idea what to expect, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.

1. Never Take Off Your Nametag

This could be my own issue, but I’ve never been a fan of nametags. Whether it was the first day of school, my work as a waitress back in the day, or attending work conferences, my initial impulse was always to whip off the tag as soon as possible.

Do not do this. The whole point of conventions is to meet like-minded people, right? But unless you already know someone’s a writer, it can be tough to spot one out in the wild. At a convention, if you see a nametag, you can be reasonably sure they’re a serious SFF fan or writer or both, whether you are crossing the street between the hotel and the conference space, hunkering down in the hotel lobby for the free internet, or getting a drink or a bite to eat in the hotel lounge. So this is one of the few times where it’s okay to let your freak flag fly.

The nametag also makes introductions easier and seeing a printed name (as opposed to just hearing it) can reinforce retention.

That said….

2. Be Prepared to Reintroduce Yourself A Lot

You will be meeting a lot of people. And just as you will have difficulty keeping everyone straight, the people you meet will also have trouble putting the name to the face. If they don’t remember you, don’t take it personally. Be gracious, and if the opportunity presents itself, remind them that you met them the night before at a party or last year at another event or that you share a TOC together… whatever it is that will help jog their memory and put you into context.


You want them to remember your face, your name, and something pleasant about you—not how you gave them a hard time for not remembering who you are from a 15-second introduction. That just makes them feel guilty, and they will then avoid you to avoid experiencing that negative emotion again.

3. Dress to Impress

I’m not talking business casual. Personal hygiene is important to handle (especially in Texas in August). As Mary Robinette Kowal said in a panel on schmoozing, you want to be the best possible version of yourself—whatever that means to you.

For me, that meant wearing clothes that had a consistent feel, styling my hair in a similar way, and wearing the same necklace and bracelet combo across the days at the convention so that people would recognize me, even if they didn’t know my name. Think of it as professional branding.
4. Ribbons Ribbons Everywhere

As this was my first con, I didn’t realize there were special “ribbons” you could affix to your nametag. These little pieces of fabric were issued to people who had pub’d in certain magazines or talked to certain con personnel or supported a particular author or whatever. I later found out there was even a ribbon for attending your first Worldcon. Many people (though not everyone) had them. I even saw one kid walking around the convention hall with so many ribbons they dragged along after him.

As with the nametags, the ribbons provide quick visual reinforcement in identifying people in your “tribe” and often served as a source of small talk. Now, I’m not saying I was ignored because I didn’t have any ribbons—I wasn’t. But it did reinforce my newbie status because I had no idea how they worked.

The exception of course were the bright green ribbons identifying the panelists and invited guests to the convention. Which leads me to….

5. Pay Attention to the Social Hierarchy

At the con, I was pretty insignificant compared to the writers further along in their careers and the editors and agents that were there. And the ribbons often reinforced this.

Unlike other cons, there were no pitch appointments offered. The only way to get an agent or editor’s attention was to either get introduced by someone they respected or small talk your way into their hearts.

Both are hard to do and are extremely dependent on luck, your social abilities, and the kindness of your colleagues.

People can sense desperation. If someone powerful has a bad opinion of you, it could haunt you the rest of your career. So don’t be that person who stalks the important people all over the con or the person who turns into a squeeing mess the second you get to talk to your writing hero, dream agent, or whathaveyou.

Instead, be sure to act courteously, and if at all possible be interesting. You may not get an opportunity to talk about you or your work, and that’s okay. Take the long view. You want to leave people with a favorable impression no matter what because who knows what could happen the next time you meet them.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Getting to "The End"

I’ve been swamped recently; hence, the blog silence last week. Part of it is I’m gearing up for another spate of travel. Part of it is juggling all the writing projects I have in the air, including getting to The End on my latest WIP.

How do you define “The End” ?

-When you first figure out the end of your story?
-When you finish that first draft?
-Or when you’ve polished until you can’t polish anymore?

For me, it’s the third option. I’ve sent this novel out to trusted readers once already. And I’m on the very last chapter in terms of implementing the changes that were raised in that round of criticism. As I gear up to send it out to another batch of readers, I’m feeling optimistic and impatient and a little nervous all that the same time.

And I realized I’ve felt different each time I’ve come to the end of a novel-length project (short stories are different in my experience).

My reactions have varied, from insecurity and nervousness (What if it’s not good enough?) to impatience (I just want to finish this story already) to relief and pride in a job well done. And in some cases, disappointment that the book didn’t measure up to what was in my head and I don’t know how to fix that.

But with this story, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I’ve felt that way before of course, and to some extent, I think you need to feel that way about all your work at this stage to stay motivated, to keep pushing yourself, and to see things through the publishing process.

So, I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished with the story. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to call it a day. My work is just beginning. I just hope I have the stomach for it.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cover Reveal for Disciple Part III

Today, I'm happy to bring you the cover for the next installment in L. Blankenship's gritty fantasy series Disciple, which I had the good fortune of beta reading.

To learn more about her work, check out my interview with her from last fall, and the guest post she did this spring on making deliberate writing choices. And if you'd like to learn more about her take on cover art, check out this post.

Saint Qadeem is looking particularly badass, if I say so myself.

About Disciple, Part III:

Kate fought for her place as a healer in the war’s front lines. Serving her homeland has been her goal since her magical gifts earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the kingdom’s greatest healer. She believes she’s prepared.

But nothing’s simple when defending a besieged capital city — or her heart.

She loves the prince, who means to protect her even though his duties as a knight keep him on the battlements, fighting the enemy’s monstrous army.

Kate’s husband is the one who checks on her, lingers over dinner, and slowly but surely charms her. She’s all too aware that her beloved prince threatened to kill him if he touches her.

As the enemy thunders against the city walls, the kingdom needs more from Kate than just her healing magic. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Kate believed she's ready for a war. She isn't.

The official cover reveal and "Next Big Thing" post are over at Disciple of the Fount.

Disciple, Part III arrives September 1st, 2013!

Part I and Part II are available at all major retailers
Sample Part I • Sample Part II • Sample Part III

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Story Sale to The Future Embodied

I’m pleased to announce that my story “Resonance” has sold to The Future Embodied, an anthology of speculative stories exploring how science and technology might change our bodies and what it means to be human.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, editors Jason Andrew and Mae Empson announced a call for “character-driven, near-future stories of how the trajectory of current science and technology could impact our daily lives and choices.”

My story “Resonance” is about two friends who meet for the first time after already having a very intimate virtual relationship facilitated by implants.

This story originated at Taos Toolbox, where we were asked to write a short story the second week of the workshop. The story benefited from the collective genius in the room (check out my fellow Toolboxers here). After incorporating everyone’s feedback, I workshopped it with my local writing group and my crit partners. Then I sent it off into the world. I’m very glad it has finally found a home.

The anthology is slated to be released in December 2013. Check out the table of contents and all the other great authors who have contributed stories

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Art of Layering in Our Fragmentary World

Infodumps are evil. Readers hit them, and their eyes glaze over. We’re lucky if they skip over them and keep going. Unlucky if they decide then and there to set the story or book aside.

We writers know infodumps are bad even if we can’t always avoid them in actual practice. Most advice tells us to break up the details and pepper them in the best we can.

Which is a helpful, but I’d argue an incomplete suggestion.

I’ve talked before about my writing process, and how my stories often begin as a skeletal first draft of dialogue and action, then I have to layer in everything else. In this case, layer refers to the iterative passes where I add in setting detail, character blocking, internal thoughts, and other expository “flesh” to the story.

Picture Source

Today I want to focus on the layering in of specific types of information: Description and Backstory.

But first, a digression (because it’s my blog and I can do what I want). Readers have a choice in how they spend their time. Books are in competition with video games, TV and movies, the black hole that is the internet, on top of demands of work and family. This isn’t new. With advances in technology and changes in how people spend their free time, people’s attention spans become increasingly fragmentary.

I have to wonder if this is related to readers’ intolerance with infodumps. They don’t have the patience to wade through them when in the back of their mind, they’re wondering why they’re wasting their time on a boring book when they could be doing X, Y, or Z…

In other words, you need to make your book worth the opportunity cost of other activities.

And that means conveying information in an entertaining way (however defined) all the time. So. Back to layering in details. We’re told to break them up and add them in as necessary, but it should go further than that. Here’s what I strive to do with my words, but your mileage may vary.


Lush description can be wonderful, but so often, such passages have no movement, no underlying action, no impetus forward. It’s a hard balance to strike: having enough detail the reader can visualize your world, but not so much it slows down pacing.

Don’t explain/describe everything at once—Readers can tolerate a certain amount of uncertainty and that can even be a driving motivation to keep them reading. Just be careful to not have too much uncertainty because then curiosity will morph into frustration (and frustration means no more reading).

Readers are on a need-to-know basis—Some grounding details are necessary, but don’t overwhelm or bore them with things that aren’t quite important yet. Granted, there are things you’ll want to sow in to foreshadow or set up subsequent scenes, but you want to strive for natural inclusion, else those details will draw attention to themselves.

Rely on archetypes—Think of these as writerly shorthand. Use them when you want to get across a basic concept: Tree, house, cow, [insert your own noun here]. Most readers will have a mental image of these concepts in their brain. The key is to prime the reader by relying on that mental image, then gradually introducing details that confirm or disrupt that image as you move from a universal concept to a more specific one.

Think telling details—These are details that are evocative and appropriate and important for describing something accurately or setting the tone or establishing voice. But don’t waste words (and your reader’s time) on the obvious. Let the archetype do the heavy lifting, and include telling details as necessary. And sometimes, a tree is just a tree.


Also something you’re better off peppering in as needed, this one is particularly insidious for writers because they spend so much time trying to figure out who their characters are and how they came to be that way, that it’s hard for them to decide what is and is not relevant for the reader.

So how do you determine what’s relevant? When the information:

Is key to understanding a character’s reaction/state-of-mind/worldview—This helps the reader identify where a character is coming from and may help to explain why they react in the way they do in the story. A character who has a history of abuse will probably react differently than a character who doesn’t, for example. Think of this type of information as an extension of character development. But extension is an important distinction—character development should be grounded in the story itself, the backstory just provides occasional context. 

Disrupts a character or reader’s assumptions for dramatic effect—Remember telling details? Backstory can function in the same manner, either confirming or clarifying character, or disrupting expectations for a dramatic twist. Look at the way JK Rowling handles Snape’s character in the Harry Potter series for how the judicious application of backstory can be used to increase tension, conflict, drama, and, interestingly, catharsis.

Obviously the worst thing a writer can do is bring a story to a screeching halt in order to convey whatever details are needed. But almost always the reader doesn’t need as much as the author thinks they do to understand what is going on. (This is where trusted readers are worth their weight in gold.)

Character archetypes can also come in handy here (hooker with the heart of gold, sad sack detective, fresh faced apprentice on hero’s journey, etc.) to help the reader tap into unconscious understanding of character—just don’t forget to round them out so they become more than just a caricature as you move from universal archetypes to specific characters only you can create.

So remember, less is almost always more, unless it confuses the reader. Strive for clarity above all, and to a lesser extent, Donald Maas’s microtension—those unexpected but revealing details that describe your story world or provide a provocative hint at your character’s past. Such details create curiosity in your reader and serve as minihooks to help your story compete in a media-rich and fragmentary world.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Being Clever versus Being a Good Storyteller

Over the weekend I went to a reading for a local speculative fiction author. In the course of his talk, he said something that resonated with me.

That with his first book series, he was trying very hard to be Clever and write Very Important Stories. But now, a few books later, he’s focused on good storytelling, no matter the milieu he’s working in (I’m paraphrasing here).

I found this to be an interesting distinction he made, and it echoed some of my internal (but not quite fully formed) thoughts about my own work and what I need to be focusing on if I want a career in this field.

Case in point: One of my short stories that I have been submitting since early 2012 has been shortlisted or bumped to the second round at SIX pro or semipro markets. But it still hasn’t found a home, and I have to ask myself why. I’ve settled on the fact that it is my “cleverest” story, given its subject matter. It asks a lot of the reader at the beginning, but it also rewards you once you get to the end. (Yeah, that kind of story.)

The first couple of times it was shortlisted, I chose to be encouraged, thinking I just haven’t found the right market. But after six (six!) times being a bridesmaid, well, I think it’s time to reevaluate things.

Perhaps I’m a little too in love with my cleverness, and as a result, I’ve forgotten the number one reason for writing a story for publication…. Readers.

I’m not saying cleverness is a bad thing. Instead it’s a matter of emphasis.

Putting story and the reader experience first does not mean you can’t also be clever. In fact, being clever in that context can be an amazing thing.

But the flip side? When being clever is your primary goal, sometimes to the exclusion of all else? That’s where you tend to lose people. (A semi-related aspect of this is when beautiful writing overwhelms a story to its detriment—see the recent article Literary Talent versus Story Talent.)

I think this is a particular problem in SF/F because Ideas! and Science! are often an integral part of the story. A nifty idea can make up for a lot of sins in craft, character development, and plot. Almost to the point where that nifty idea becomes a crutch.

My story has a nifty idea, and it also commits a few sins of good storytelling. And that combination has netted me a whole lot of close-but-no-cigars. So where do I go from here? I’ve got to figure out a way to present my nifty idea within the context of good storytelling.

That can be a hard gulf to bridge for any writer, beginning or seasoned. But letting the story rest and getting some new eyes on it will go a long way. At least I’m hoping so.

Warning signs your “cleverness” is getting in the way of your story:

  • Focusing on your “nifty idea” to the detriment of other story elements.
  • Reader feedback saying they didn’t understand aspects of your story.
  • Infodumps that are necessary to explain things to unenlightened readers.
  • Telling yourself the above is okay because you’re writing for a select/smart/in-the-know audience which consists of you and maybe five other people.

Have you ever been guilty of letting your ideas take over your story?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Secret Vacation from Social Media

I’m baaack…

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, that’s a good thing. Because I worked hard to make it seem like I was here even though I wasn't.

I’ve taken time off the blog before—a week every now and again for vacation, the holidays, or whenever real life gets too crazy.

But when I found out I’d be joining my husband for a three-week trip to Germany and Spain, I was left with a tough choice. Either let the blog go dark for an obscenely long time or work harder than I’d like to keep the blog up-to-date.

I chose the later option while I spent the majority of this past month in Europe. And here’s how.

Get Organized

I was lucky in that I had advance notice of our travel dates. So I created a list of priorities that I wanted to accomplish before leaving town. Everything from reaching certain milestones on my various projects, ensuring all my critiquing obligations were met, and preparing blog posts in advance.

Knowing what I needed to run when was hugely beneficial. In my early blogging days, I always had a blog post or two ready to go in case I needed it. However, that fell off as my writing obligations increased. But it was good to remember just how smoothly things could go with the right preparations in place.

Get Tech

The post scheduling feature on Blogger (also available on Wordpress) also helped tremendously. Although we were told we’d have internet access at the hotels we were staying at over the course of our trip, who knew how that would work out in actuality (Spain had the worst internet b-t-dubs). That combined with the time difference and the fact that I would be more focused on having a fantastic time in Europe instead of micromanaging my social media, it made sense to have my posts ready to go in advance.

The other tool in my arsenal? Tweet Deck. Some of you are already familiar with it, I’m sure, but I just started using it this Spring, and it’s “schedule tweets” feature was hugely helpful in creating the illusion I was still around in the digital ether. Took the spontaneity out of my tweet stream, yes, but it was a big help keeping my Twitter profile active.

Get Help

But in the end, I didn’t do it alone. When I found out I’d be gone, I solicited help from a few of my writerly friends. I staggered their interviews between regular posts, which lessened the burden on me to create new content.

In case you missed them, be sure you check out the interviews with some great fellow writers I have the utmost respect for:

I was happy I could keep the social media machine rolling while I was away, even though it required a lot of work. What techniques or shortcuts do you rely on to stay on top of your social media obligations?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Interview with Fran Wilde

Today, please welcome SF/F writer Fran Wilde to the blog!

I met Fran at Taos Toolbox and was impressed by her ability to fuse lyrical writing with genre fiction. She became a full SFWA member in July 2012 and scored an agent (!) in May 2013, and I’ve asked her here to share a bit more about herself and her writing journey.

Please tell us about your journey from when you first decided you wanted to be a writer through now.

Are there children in the room? Best ask them to leave, this gets messy…

I was a writer the moment I realized you could make words stick around by writing them down.

Mine is a storytelling family (some relatives use circular breathing so they can’t be interrupted; others tell fantastic yarns that end with ‘Whelp. So that happened.’). I grew up listening to their stories – some of which changed each time they were told. When I wrote my stories down, they stayed put. I liked that.

And more than anything, I was a reader. I got my own library card as soon as possible, and I was on a first-name basis with the local indie bookstore owners. I read everything I could, especially if it had spaceships, universe-sized intrigues, computers, fantastic creatures, strange people, or, better, all of the above.  Some of what I read wasn’t viewed as appropriate reading for me – I got told that a lot. I read it and loved it anyway.

Two years after I completed my MFA, I set aside the manuscript I was working on in order to focus on three things that paid the bills: teaching, copywriting (mostly for engineers and tech), and programming. While I wrote during that time, I didn’t send anything out, and I didn’t have a community of writers, save for a few dear friends who kept reminding me who I was. Finally, one day I snapped and wrote half a story – and the next day I wrote some more, and soon I was back on a regular writing schedule. And this time around, I gave myself full permission to write what I wanted to write.

No big shock, then, that my new stories had space in them. And programming, and engineering. And poetry. And strange creatures. I found a resource online – the SFF Online Writing Workshop – and critiqued there for a while before dropping a story in to see what would happen.  That led to finding my first crit buddies – several of whom I still exchange work with.  Five months later, I went to Viable Paradise and Jim MacDonald and the instructors at the Martha’s Vineyard workshop told me I wasn’t really a short story writer. They dared me to try to write a novel in 90 days. And I met more of my community. That was fantastic.

A similar thing happened at Taos – where I met you! And I’m a better writer for it all.

You have both a Masters in information architecture and interaction design and an MFA in poetry, which are very different fields. How does this background inform your writing?

Programming and poetry share more in common than you might think. I’d love to see a poem written in regular expressions that actually compiles into something.  I love the places where the two meet: interactive narratives, using hypertext and gorgeous graphics. I love graphic novels too.  And I’m very aware of sensory stuff – particularly the sounds words make – sometimes too much so. I get caught up in nets of sound.

What piece of writing advice has been key to bettering your craft? 

Easy is the enemy. Keep writing, every day. Put that amazing draft away for six weeks, then look at it again, with a critical eye.

I had the good fortune of reading the amazing novel that got you agented. Please share a bit about the book and what you're working on now.

Bone Arrow is a science-fantasy YA novel that demanded to be written. I love building worlds, and this one’s a lot of fun, and strange, too. Think Cirque du Soleil meets the Codex Seraphinianus. But what I love best is the characters – because once I gave them the space, they ran with it. I had all these things planned out for them and instead, they did their own things, a lot of which completely surprised me.

Right now, I’m working on a second generation story set in the same world, with different characters. There’s a related short story coming out in the Impossible Futures anthology in August, called “A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed”.

And I’m working on a novella set in a different universe, and revisions to my first novel, Moonmaker, which is more tech-driven.  I usually keep a lot of projects going so that if one slows down or I need to stick it in a drawer, I can pick up another.

What is important for a beginning or intermediate writer to understand about writing for publication?

Ah. This is the hard part. Rejection isn’t personal. It feels personal. It can feel like you’ve been judged as not worthy – like you’re not really a writer when you get that “unfortunately”.  But writing for publication is all about ‘Right time, right editor, right story.” Pro writers get rejections too. The key is to send that story back out – and to keep sending it out. I need to do that with a few stories, actually. [Bad writer: no biscuit.]

Another good idea is to volunteer to read slush for a magazine in your genre. Keep an eye on your favorites via Twitter and Facebook. Editors sometimes post requests for new slush readers there.  Once you see the scope of a typical slush pile, you’ll realize it’s not personal. And hopefully that will help you start to feel more confident about your writing and your submissions as well.

Thanks so much, Fran!

Thank you Lauren! It’s always great to talk with you!

You can find Fran on Twitter [@fran_wilde] and stay up-to-date with her writing through her blog:


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Best Laid Plans

Writing is a slow process. From idea to draft, from early drafts to later drafts, from query to agent, from contract to publication. That doesn’t mean things can’t move faster, just that they so often don’t.

Patience is a quality you need to cultivate if you are going to survive this field. I understand all this—even if I don’t like it. One thing I like to do is make plans to distract myself from the futility of waiting (I’m type A all the way).

Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, I think being able to plan is a crucial act of writing, even if it’s the just-in-time variety pantsters employ. We have to be able to hold large amounts of information in our heads and then turn that information into something that’s not only literate but adheres to a recognizable structure. This ability is explored in part by Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographerby Peter Turch—a book that’s geared more to thinking about writing than actual writing, if you know what I mean, though in this case that’s not a dig.

Planning, making mental maps, using words to formalize what has only been nebulous or intangible thought… these kinds of activities take a lot of time, and can be the very means to work through the periods of waiting that always seem to crop up.

These activities for me often include:
--Planning out my next project
--Determining what I need to do on the blog
--Prioritizing story drafts across projects, critiquing for my writing groups and CPs, and research time

I also create contingency plans in my head.

Sometimes I create contingencies when I’m plotting out a novel and need my research to corroborate the action. I want X to happen in my story, but if the research doesn’t support X, I’ll need to go with Y. Or Z. Or maybe X will work but another set of conditions need to be considered. By planning out what needs to happen, and what alternatives could also work, I’m able to work through tricky plot issues and stay on target with my story.

Or in the case of submitting, say I have a handful of short stories under consideration at markets. However, most markets have no simultaneous or multiple submissions policies in place. Because of this, I have to consider what is the best order to submit them. Usually factoring in some combination of

1. Impact (higher tier/exposure over lesser markets)
2. Response time (quicker over slower)
3. Fit (always hard to judge)
4. Deadlines

For example, let’s say the average response time at a market is a week. And there’s a deadline for stories with a theme similar to my story coming up in two weeks. I would probably submit my story to the market with the 1-week deadline, under the assumption that if it gets selected (great), but more realistically I might get some feedback that would help me to submit to the themed market in time.

I’ve also created contingency plans in my head for what happens if something big and exciting happens. What then? I don’t recommend this last one. For starters, I can make a gazillion plans and all that mental effort goes out the door with one rejection. Sure, a contingency plan will kick in then, and I’ll remain optimistic for another few weeks and then… Well, you can see how this cycle could last forever.

So planning can range from the highly useful (as in the case of story plotting and time management) to busy work (micromanaging story submission orders) to entirely unnecessary (winning the publishing lottery).

But writers write. And in the case of this writer, I plan as well.

Happy writing (and planning)!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interview with Lori M. Lee

Today I’m happy to bring you an interview with my critique partner Lori M. Lee. 

In December of 2011, she signed with Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary, and her book deal (!) with Skyscape was recently announced. She blogs about the writing life at

Thanks for stopping by today, Lori! For the uninitiated, could you give us a brief overview of your writing journey up until now?

Thanks for having me, Lauren :) It's been almost four years since I began my first manuscript-with-intent-to-query/publish in 2009. It was a NaNoWriMo, and I spent a year editing and rewriting it based on feedback from my amazing CPs (like you! :D) before querying. While querying that project, I began working on Gates of Thread and Stone. This story so much fun to write, and I was extremely fortunate to receive an offer of representation in November of 2011 after only a few weeks of querying. But the work definitely didn't end there. A major revision and a year later, I finally got that yes from an editor!

What is something that surprised you about being an agented writer? Many aspiring writers put so much emphasis on getting an agent without necessarily thinking about what happens after reaching that milestone.

This is sort of dumb (and a good example of how my brain works... or doesn't, in this case), but when I began my next project, I had brief moments of panic when I thought about writing the query. Then, at some point, it struck me—I don't have to write a query. My agent doesn't require one. The query was always such a stress-filled requisite of writing a new manuscript-with-intent-to-find-an-agent that it didn't immediately occur to me I didn't need one b/c I already had an agent. And believe me, when that realization hit, it felt AWESOME.

I’ve gotten the impression from other writers in the blogosphere that being on submission is kind of like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. What can you say about your time on submission and how you coped for other writers going through the same process?

Being on submission had even greater ups and downs than querying. When an editor loved the book, but it got shot down in acquisitions, that hurt a million times more than an agent rejection because I was so, so close. Being on sub was exciting and terrifying, but also emotionally draining. I coped with everything first by working on something new and then inadvertently by getting pregnant lol. With my mind focused on a new world and new characters (and the impending baby), I had less time to worry about what was happening with the book on submission.

The Gates of Thread and Stone will be published by Skyscape (Amazon Children’s Publishing) in 2014, and it is the first book in a series. Tell us about the book.

Going with what was revealed in the deal announcement (since I don’t know how much more I can talk about yet), Gates is about a girl who stays carefully under the radar to keep her ability—to manipulate the threads of time—a secret. But when her brother disappears, she has to risk getting caught up in a revolution in order to save him.

What was your biggest challenge writing this book?

This particularly book came really easily to me, which is not typical. The world building was probably the biggest challenge because world building, in itself, is fairly intricate, but the plot and the characters were very clear in my mind.

What excites you most about this next stage of your career?

Reader feedback. Good or bad, I can't wait to hear what readers think. It's definitely scary, and I'll probably fumble through it all, but I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, what is the single best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Work on your next book while you’re waiting for query responses. Write while you’re on submission. Write while you’re waiting for feedback from CPs or your agent or your editor. Having that shiny new idea to focus on really does make the waiting more bearable, and the bonus is if that ms doesn’t work out, you’ve got your next one ready to go.

Thanks so much Lori!

Be sure you check out her blog ( and follow her on twitter (@lorimlee).

Lori’s always been an incredibly supportive writer, and I’m so happy she’ll be able to share her stories with the world!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Invisibility of Progress

Improvements in writing ability are often hard to detect. So much of what is “good” is contextual—dictated by a particular project, the audience you’re writing for, or even market trends.

I’ve talked before about How Do You Know if you are ready for publication. Although it’s related, that’s not exactly what I want to talk about today.

Instead I want to focus on all the invisible things writers do in the hopes of bettering their craft, expanding their professional network, and positioning themselves for success to the best of their ability.

Image courtesy of Penywise of Morgue Files

Objective measures of success in this field are pretty self-explanatory. You’re either published or you're not (however you choose to define it). When you’re “not” published, chances are you’re doing a bunch of things other than writing in the hopes they will pay off in some small way in the future.

For example, I haven’t sold any short stories since last fall. If you are looking at my output objectively—well, there isn’t any by that definition. Instead, so much of what I’m doing these days is invisible. And I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

These invisible activities include:

Reading slush for Masque Books – Beyond occasional mentions here on the blog, it’s something I do to strengthen my ability to evaluate projects, diagnose writing problems, and gain insights into the editorial process. I won’t be able to learn these things overnight—this requires a commitment of months if not years to see the benefit from this type of activity.

Joining an invitation-only critique group – The meetings are intense and panic-inducing. I’m learning tons, making good connections, but as with any critique group, feedback is only as good as the projects I bring to them. Workshopping novels (and short stories to a lesser extent) can be a long process outside of development time.

Submitting to higher-tier markets – I have three in rotation right now that I truly believe in. And I’ve been aiming high. My sales last year gave me the confidence to target higher-tier markets. Personal rejections? Check. Second-round bumps? Check. Agonizing ‘You just missed the cut’ notices? Oh yeah. And the worst part is, all this means longer response times.

When non-writers ask me about my writing these days, it’s hard to explain how all these invisible activities fill up my time and contribute to my work. But they do mean something. They are valuable. They just go largely unseen because they don’t conform to objective measures of success.

I just have to believe they’ll add up to something that cannot be ignored one day.

What aspect of your writing life is invisible?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Interview with Catherine Schaff-Stump

Today I’d like to introduce you to Catherine Schaff-Stump, one of my fellow writers from the Taos Toolbox workshop I attended last summer.

 Catherine is a fantastic speculative fiction writer who tends to write for younger ages. She interviewed every member of our workshop class (which you can find here) and now it’s time to return the favor.
1.     When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

My older brother is an artist, so I knew that couldn’t be my thing, because then I would be a copy cat. One year, he painted a beautiful bird on a block of wood for my mother for mother’s day, and I whipped out a small (and somewhat maudlin, I’m pretty sure!) poem which he calligraphied underneath the bird. My mother gave me a great deal of praise, and that’s when I knew that this was something unique that I could do. So I began to write stories.
2.     How would you describe your writing? 

I do two kinds of things: kind of a madcap middle grade kind of thing (like in Hulk Hercules) and kind of a darker, gothic kind of thing. I’m a Gemini, right? There’s a fundamental dichotomy in my character.
3.     How much research do you do for your work? 

A LOT. I’m a former graduate student, so I’m not proud. I like to research and try to get things closer to what they might be like. Even when I’m making something up, I like to do some real world research as a basis for beginning.
4.     What are you working on right now? 

I have finally begun the first of five books about a family of demon binders, so right now I’m writing about two fairly quixotic sisters and their struggle for power and romance. There is at least one nice guy in the book. Awful things will happen to everyone. Somehow I find that satisfying. :P
5.     How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox? 

I’d been to Viable Paradise, and that gave me some faith in my ability to make it in the writing game, but I thought I need to push myself further than that to make it professionally. I’d been engaging in writer education—reading a lot, going to a couple of seminars, and attending writer education sessions at cons. Many of my friends had been to Taos, and thought it would be a good next step for me. So, I applied, and the rest is history.
6.     What advice would you give to someone attending their first writing workshop? 

Get used to criticism. Listen and be gracious. Realize that someone else’s opinion may have insight for you, but you must also trust your instincts. Try to treat your critique group as a team, and you may have a great group of friends later. Lend a hand. Give good crit.  And remember, if you’re just there for someone to tell you that your writing is great, you’re in the wrong place, and you’ve wasted a whole lot of money. Be ready to learn.
7.     What is your writing goal for 10 years down the line? 

In ten years, 2023, I will be (da-dum!) 58.  My hope would be to be retired from my full time job as a college professor. I would like to then be a full-time writer living on my retirement income in Florida. It would be awesome if I even had published one or two novels already.  I would still be half of one of the greatest romances of the 20th/21st century. This sounds pretty idyllic.
8.     Many of your projects have series potential. Why do you think that is? 

Because my brain keeps asking what if.  For example, the first Klarion character started as a support character in another story, and he told me about his family. And then I said, what were your parents like, and then your grandparents? And where did the curse come from?  And what do all the cosmological forces get out of all of this? And…on and on. Just the other day, someone asked me a question about Carlo’s granddad as I was sharing the book, and I thought crap. More what if.
I’ve never been a writer who’s lacked material. I’ve always lacked time.
9.     What do you think is an important quality writers need to have if they are going to succeed in this field? 

Just one? Persistence. Through the good times and the bad. Through the rejections and the apathy of sometimes not wanting to write. Through the silent periods of agents and editors. Slog on, little writer, slog on. The only way out is through.
I would also recommend a thick skin; the recognition that you will sometimes be saddened and depressed by constant rejection, and that’s okay; and a great support group of friends and family that believe in your writing when you are not equipped to do so.
Remember, it’s not you. It’s not them. It’s the right story in the right hands at the right time. Keep writing until that happens.
10.  Where can readers find more of your work?

I am mostly in print these days. My middle-grade novel Hulk Hercules: Professional Wrestler is available widely on line. You can find two of my short stories, Turtle of the Earth and Mark Twain’s Daughter in Cucurbital 2 and 3 respectively, and those are available through Paper Golem press. If you’re very lucky, you might find a copy of the electronic Needles and Bones which contains Sister Night, Sister Moon from Drollerie Press, although that is now out of “print.”

Happy Writing!
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